Owing a significant debt to the Netherlandish illuminators, who recorded flowers, plants, small creatures so appreciatively in their manuscript borders, and to the virtuoso draughtsmanship of Dürer and his circle in the south German renaissance, Barry Kirk creates a series of miniature worlds, often seen at eye-level to an ant or a butterfly. The artist’s fascination with leaves, evoked with a palette deploying a seemingly inexhaustible range of greens, weaves a heady magic, a rapture reminiscent of the intense focus on natural phenomena, bordering almost on the surreal, achieved by the court painters of Rudolfine Prague, with their agenda to catalogue each wonder of nature and science. Not for Barry Kirk, however, is there an appeal in the exotic. On the contrary, like the pre-Raphaelites (Kirk particularly admires the work of Boyce, Brett, Inchbold and the early Millais) he is drawn more to the everyday and homely – bergenia and echinops, Spanish bluebells, ivy and Japanese anemones – observed in familiar settings, in gardens, hedgerows, along country footpaths and in the corners of fields.
In north Norfolk a more open landscape has given Kirk the opportunity to pursue his taste for three-dimensional space in painting, progressing from closely-observed foreground vegetation to a distant horizon within a single picture. His work sometimes offers an intriguing, almost encyclopaedic cross-section of the artist’s favourite environment, encompassing in an enveloping upward vision flowers, garden, stacked lobster pots, marshland, sea-wall, fishing boats and a cloud strewn sky.
‘Animated with the effervescence of living things,’ Kirk’s oils re-live, as Richard Mabey has put it, ‘the whole tradition of European nature painting... recast with a profoundly modern eye,’ liberating the artist’s subjects as much as ‘containing’ them, adding ecological respect to the business of capturing the image, with its built-in assumptions about the superiority of the human viewer: a link here perhaps with the unassuming romanticism of the native British tradition, a care for roots and beginnings apparent, for instance, in the work of artists such as Paul Nash and David Jones.
BARRY KIRK was born in Kent
in 1933 and educated at Westminster School, Canterbury School of
Art and The Royal College of Art, where he studied etching, in particular,
under Julian Trevelyan. Subsequently, he taught at both Canterbury
and Guildford Schools of Art, eventually developing a successful
career rising to Principal of the College.
Throughout the 1960s Barry Kirk continued
painting and printmaking as personal pursuits, first concentrating
on urban subjects, often with figures: interiors, markets, builders'
yards and back gardens. Later he developed an individual mode of
relief-painting on canvas, using modern synthetic media, a technique
which led for a while to fully three-dimensional sculpture. During
the 1980s Kirk returned to oil painting and watercolour, a development
which coincided with a preference for subjects drawn from the countryside,
fuelled by many extended visits to the north Norfolk coastline,
which would become a major source of subject matter.
Represented by Francis Kyle Gallery since
1993, Barry Kirk took part in the Gallery's 1994 theme exhibition
The Piero Trail, contributing a major composition reinterpreting
Piero della Francesca's Nativity. In 1995 he participated in Per
Una Selva Oscura: artists take to the forest, a celebration of the
experience of woodland prompted by the enigmatic opening of Dante's
Inferno and in 1997 contributed to The Saxon Shore. Kirk has held
one-man exhibitions with Francis Kyle Gallery in 1997, 2001 and
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